Honoring the Fallen

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The family of fallen SEAL portrayed in Lone Survivor remembers their son.

Danny Dietz, 19
Danny Dietz, 19

Danny Dietz was one of four Navy SEALs on Operation Red Wings, a mission to eliminate a high-ranking member of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. They were ambushed, and he and two other comrades did not survive.

The major motion picture and book, Lone Survivor, are based on retellings of the story by fellow SEAL Marcus Luttrell. Dietz’s family has seen the heroic ending of his life portrayed in writing and on the big screen, and they are using the occasion to bring awareness to his values and celebrate his life and the service of his fellow sailors.

Danny’s parents describe their son as an intelligent, curious and energetic young man who was always laced in the gifted and talented programs throughout his school years.

“He had so much energy and curiosity, even at a young age,” said his father, Dan Dietz. “As a young child, he wanted to be a ninja, but when he was 9, he learned that wasn’t real and right then decided being a Navy SEAL was the next best thing.”

Then around eighth grade he decided he was bored with the normal routine and wanted to have a sort of ‘bad-boy’ image,” said his mother, Cindy Dietz-Marsh. He starting hanging out with some bad kids.”

Danny’s luck ran out when he started skipping school. “The court sent him to a military-style boot camp for young people,” said Dietz-Marsh. “He came out of that and came home as the son I wanted.

“He decided to get school done and got into a program where he did four years of high school in just one year,” she said.

Dietz in Afghanistan, 2005
Dietz in Afghanistan, 2005

After taking a few months off, Danny joined the Navy with the intent of fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a SEAL.

“I was a Navy corpsman with the 1st Force Recon Marines,” the elder Dietz said. “We trained with all of the military’s special forces, and I knew what kind of attitude it took. I told Danny he’d never make it, and he just kept saying, ‘Oh yes, I will.’ When he finally did become a SEAL, we were so proud of him.”

But he never bragged about being part of an elite unit. “When he came home on leave, he told people he drove an ice cream truck,” Dietz said.

The book and film portraying his life give his parents mixed feelings, calling their emotions “nervous yet excited.”

“Marcus could’ve walked away, blocked those memories from his mind and never told this story,” said Dietz-Marsh. “But he didn’t. He didn’t stop until this story was told.”

Dietz-Marsh said that when the movie came out, she was petrified of having to sit through the scene of her son’s final moments on a mountain in Afghanistan.

“I have so many mixed emotions,” she said. “But the world needs to see what the military does for our freedom. This is a film that is much needed.”

Dietz, center, with his parents, Dan and Cindy, Summer 1998
Dietz, center, with his parents, Dan and Cindy, Summer 1998

Because of his selfless actions in the mountains of Afghanistan, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny Dietz was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the United States’ second highest medal awarded for valor.

Danny’s parents dedicate their free time to causes that honor his contributions. Dietz-Marsh is a board member of the Danny Dietz Memorial Fund, which helps qualifying students obtain money for a college education. Dietz works with the Danny Dietz Training Institute, which helps at-risk youth, something his son was once considered.

They now have published their own book, Danny: The Virtues Within—What America Can Learn from Navy SEAL Danny Dietz. Rather than a military book, this is a story about overcoming adversity and building character.

In April 2009, Colorado lawmakers voted to name a 10-mile stretch of Santa Fe Highway the “Navy SEAL Danny Phillip Dietz Jr. Memorial Highway.”

Dietz, right, with younger siblings, Eric and Tiffany, Christmas 2004
Dietz, right, with younger siblings, Eric and Tiffany, Christmas 2004

“Danny would’ve never wanted all of this publicity,” Dietz said. “But Danny belongs to the nation now. This is the message people need to hear—the message that young people like Danny protect America.”

“I don’t think I will ever understand my son being gone,” said Dietz-Marsh. “But my purpose is to tell his story and ensure people never forget.”

“That Gunner’s Mate Dietz had a drive to overcome the roadblocks he had in front of him is very much indicative of the tenacity of America’s veterans,” said National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “I want to personally thank the Dietz family for sharing their brave son’s story with us and the nation.”

“Danny was doing what he was born to do,” Dietz said. “He was being a Navy SEAL. If I leave a fraction of that heritage behind for America, I’ll be happy.”